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  • Writer's pictureRachel Shifra Tal

The body and the soul connection

Ever have a concept or value that you believe and want cognitively and then when it comes to action, you are unable to put it into practice?

This is an actual phenomenon! The head and the heart, there is a distance between the two and what one understands and what the heart feels can actually contradict each other.

I will throw out a few examples. Knowing one should, must, want, need to not gossip, have patience, clean the house, parent with patience, give the benefit of the doubt, get to shul on time, pray, keep commandments, make better use of one’s time, write that article, novel…. you name it.

I have a friend who is actively dating, each new relationship, she tells me that she will change….one two and three about herself and how she approaches the relationship….as the dating begins, she continues to set her intention and then, she does the same pattern she swore she would never do. I see it in marriages, ‘today I won’t boss around my spouse…. critisize ect….’ Then the same thing the person wants to avoid, happens!

Then we begin the process of beating ourselves to a pulp. The frustration. We ‘know’ what is the ‘right’ way or ‘the’ way we want, then what happens?

One of the 6 constant mitzvot (meaning a mitzva we should do every day, constantly.) The Torah says: "Don't be misled by your heart and eyes" (Numbers 15:39). The Jewish idea is to follow logic, not whims. And precisely because the sensory pull is so strong and pervasive, it is a constant mitzvah – a constant challenge – to stay the proper course.

That is all good and fine. But how do we convince the mind to rule the heart? Some of the woke words of our time are, do what you feel, if you don’t feel it, you don’t want it, be comfortable, do what sparks joy and one of the most dangerous, falling out of love.

Many people leave religion because they are not happy. In fact a prominent therapist in Israel said that most people who she meets that resist or go off the Derech is because they feel several emotions, one of them being, they struggle with the hearts wants, some call it the yetzer hora (I think that is too harsh) and others call it the draw of the physical body.

We are a body and a soul fused. This fusion requires a constant balancing act. The soul yearns to grow, connect, create and the body yearns to be comfortable, still and satiated.

Why such a challenge? Why make them opposites? Many philosophies have tried to explain this challenge. Many societies have reflected one over the other, prizing the physical or the soul. The scariest times in history in my opinion is when we try to divorce the idea that we are both, a body and a soul together. Denying a person’s basic needs and desires has been many religions goal to bridge the gap between the body and the soul. For example, eating only simple plain food, speech fasts, no sexual intimacy, beatings, no buttons, shunning the physical world and isolating the person from the world. Then you have the other extreme, worshiping the body, indulging in any and all pleasures, no boundaries (this is two extremes I am describing), open relationships and the general mentality, anything goes.

I can’t say this enough, Judaism is all about balance, everything in it’s right time and place. The Torah’s approach to the body and the soul is both a cautionary tale and one of perspective and balance. The halachot are in place with the body soul balance and connection in place. Instant gratification has its rightful place as does long term satisfaction.

One of the reasons that we understand that GD made the world is to give us pleasure. If you look at what the goal of almost every human being on the planet, IS to seek pleasure. There are multiple layers and dimensions of pleasure, from the superficial to the deep meaningful and long-lasting pleasure.

I want to add one more point before going into what the Torah guides us on how to balance the two parts of ourselves.

First, it is important to note, Olam Haba is not mentioned once in the bible. There is a reason for this glaring intentional oversight. That is not the focus. Not the goal.

Waiiit you say, all religious ritual is about reward and punishment, getting to heaven instead of hell and so forth? Nope!

So the body is bad? It’s physical desires and pleasures? We must rule over it? Double nope! In the times of Moshiach, all souls will be reunited with their bodies! This holding cell (Olam Haba) is just that, a waiting space till the Ultimate redemption! It is not the ultimate destination! This world is! All of us myself included have been influenced by pagan and Christian beliefs that the body is bad, the soul is sinful and the goal is to get to heaven! Nope again! No offence Pagans and Christians!

So. We determined that the one of the goals of Creation is to give us pleasure. That the body and the soul are both seriously important and the ultimate destination is right here!

Judaism is all about balance and the right thing at the right time. One of my favorite examples of this is from Kohelet.

Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven. אלַכֹּ֖ל זְמָ֑ן וְעֵ֥ת לְכָל־חֵ֖פֶץ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּׁמָֽיִם:

A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted. בעֵ֥ת לָלֶ֖דֶת וְעֵ֣ת לָמ֑וּת עֵ֣ת לָטַ֔עַת וְעֵ֖ת לַֽעֲק֥וֹר נָטֽוּעַ:

A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build. געֵ֤ת לַֽהֲרוֹג֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִרְפּ֔וֹא עֵ֥ת לִפְר֖וֹץ וְעֵ֥ת לִבְנֽוֹת:

A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing. דעֵ֤ת לִבְכּוֹת֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִשְׂח֔וֹק עֵ֥ת סְפ֖וֹד וְעֵ֥ת רְקֽוֹד:

A time to cast stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. העֵת לְהַשְׁלִ֣יךְ אֲבָנִ֔ים וְעֵ֖ת כְּנ֣וֹס אֲבָנִ֑ים עֵ֣ת לַֽחֲב֔וֹק וְעֵ֖ת לִרְחֹ֥ק מֵֽחַבֵּֽק:

A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away. ועֵ֤ת לְבַקֵּשׁ֙ וְעֵ֣ת לְאַבֵּ֔ד עֵ֥ת לִשְׁמ֖וֹר וְעֵ֥ת לְהַשְׁלִֽיךְ:

A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak. זעֵ֤ת לִקְר֨וֹעַ֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִתְפּ֔וֹר עֵ֥ת לַֽחֲשׁ֖וֹת וְעֵ֥ת לְדַבֵּֽר:

A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace. חעֵ֤ת לֶֽאֱהֹב֙ וְעֵ֣ת לִשְׂנֹ֔א עֵ֥ת מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְעֵ֥ת שָׁלֽוֹם:

Hashem looked into the Torah and made the world, this insight is telling, everything is contained within the Torah. It is called an Eitz Chaim, a living tree. A Jew is usually described as, a practicing Jew. We are not a combination of traditions and history, we are a living people, actively living the Torah and it’s commandments. Just look at the requirement of Pesach, one must believe as if they personally were taken out of Egypt! This is not history! It is right here, right now relevance. What are we slaves to? Our devices, our temper, our desires? Each holiday takes us upwards in a spiral of growth.

The commandments are just that! They help us with this heart, mind, body soul balancing act. Just as you cook a dish in the kitchen you want the flavors to blend and compliment, sweet goes with salty, savory with spice…ect. They are seemingly opposite, yet when blended in harmony, delectable! I have a pepper container that if tipped the wrong way, the lid will come off and dump pepper on my food, ruining the dish. Too much of anything, even something beautiful can be destructive. Life in moderation, thoughtfulness and in the right time makes all the difference! Same with the wrong application of something, pepper in soup is totally awesome! On ice cream? Not so much!

Lets examine one Mitzvah as an example, but I encourage you to use this lens of balance when looking at the others as well as it applies to all of them in my opinion.

Each Mitzva should be treated as a zip file! A zip file is a condensed portion, for example, the Ten Commandments, the 613 are a derivative from them!!

To give charity according to one's means. This commandment, lets unpack it, keeping in mind the body and the soul. What could the body want possibly? To be comfortable, then this commandment goes directly against the body! To give a portion of one’s money to charity? Let’s go deeper. The soul, perhaps it would say to give all one’s money away! The halacha is a minimum of ten percent, no more than twenty percent. Brilliant! Now we have a balance, but why give at all? Let’s examine what happens to a person when they give charity, does it benefit them? Actually, incredibly so! Not only will they be living in a society that supports the struggling (let’s imagine for a second an entire society that gives charity). That will directly benefit our giver, having a functional society is crucial to a good and comfortable life! A little deeper, we know that the more one gives, Hashem promises, the more one gets! The benefit to the giver multiplies! Money, it is not ours, it comes it goes. Money for the sake of money will lead a person to destruction.

Selfish acts compound and the same with selfless acts, except one exceptional thing! Selfless acts, they not only benefit the person, but also change a person, same with selfish, except at a certain point, a snowball effect takes place and one is drawn into multiple opportunities for growth and kindness vs if set in motion selfishness can literally trap the person and makes it much harder to extract them! We see this with Paroah, the first few plagues, he had a choice, then he lost his choice and GD hardened his heart. This is this effect, Paroah passed a point of no return sending himself off a cliff of destruction that the momentum took over overriding his intentions or actions.

A good deed, begets a good deed and lo aleinu, a bad one, begets another. There is no, just one time thinking. Hashem in great compassion has a beautiful road back from disconnection (that is what a sin is, a disconnection from Gd and yourself) Teshuvah.

I encourage us to put on the lens of balance and have a look in areas of our life that may be out of balance and see what the Torah says about getting back to balance. Just as we attempt to eat a balanced diet and feel better when we do, a spiritual diet should be no different.

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